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When Success Is the Only Option:

Designing Competency-Based Pathways


for Next Generation Learning

Written by:

Chris Sturgis
MetisNet

Susan Patrick
International Association for K-12 Online Learning
When Success
Is the Only Option:
Designing Competency-Based
Pathways for Next Generation
Learning
Written by:
Chris Sturgis, MetisNet
Susan Patrick, iNACOL

November 2010

TOLL-FREE888.95.NACOL (888.956.2265)
DIRECT 703.752.6216 fax 703.752.6201
email info@inacol.org web www.inacol.org
mail 1934 Old Gallows Road, Suite 350 Vienna, VA 22182-4040
About the Authors
In early 2010, the Nellie Mae Education Foundation asked Susan Patrick from iNACOL and Chris
Sturgis of MetisNet to scan the field of competency-based approaches and identify avenues for
philanthropic investments. The authors come to the issue from different perspectives: Susan
from her advocacy for online learning, and Chris from her commitment to creating educational
opportunities for over-aged, under-credited students to complete their high school diplomas. The
findings and insights offered here are designed to generate discussion and to support the emerging
leaders of next generation learning.

In the effort to establish an inclusive learning community, iNACOL has established a wiki at
www.inacol.org to provide additional materials and to capture the insights of all those who are
working to redesign education so that it works for all of our students.

About iNACOL
iNACOL is the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, a non-profit 501(c)(3) membership
association based in the Washington, DC area with more than 3,700 members. iNACOL is unique in
that its members represent a diverse cross-section of K-12 education from school districts, charter
schools, state education agencies, non-profit organizations, colleges, universities and research
institutions, corporate entities and other content and technology providers.

iNACOLs mission is to ensure all students have access to a world-class education and quality online
learning opportunities that prepare them for a lifetime of success.

Online learning is expanding educational options for students regardless of their geographic
boundaries, background or family income levels. In light of this, iNACOL is uniquely positioned to
help identify online learning models that are emerging in the next generation of education, highlight
new trends and help improve online programs and services. iNACOLs annual conference, the Virtual
School Symposium (VSS), provides important analysis, interactive sessions and thought-provoking
workshops for leaders looking to help shape the future of education.

About MetisNet
MetisNet works with foundations, government, and individuals to identify the most effective
ways to shape investments that build communities, benefit children and families, and strengthen
our future. Our mission stems from the very roots of our namemetisa Greek word for local
knowledge and wisdom. Drawing on multiple perspectives, MetisNet works with clients to develop
vibrant, asset-based investment strategies. For more information, visit www.metisnet.net.

This report was made possible with funding from the Nellie Mae
Education Foundation. The Foundation supports the promotion and
integration of student-centered approaches to learning at the middle
and high school levels. For more information, visit www.nmefdn.org.

2 INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION for K-12 Online Learning


Table of Contents
Introduction. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
On Creating a New Grammar. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
I. A Working Definition of Competency-Based Pathways . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8
Design Principle 1: Students Advance upon Mastery. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8
Design Principle 2: Explicit and Measurable Learning Objectives That Empower Students. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
Design Principle 3: Assessment Is Meaningful and a Positive Learning Experience for Students. . . . . . . . . . . . 9

II. Insights from Pockets of Innovation. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12


A. Drivers of Innovation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12
1. Overcoming Inequities Produced by a Time-Based System. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12
2. Growing Demand. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
3. Exploring Multiple Points of Entry. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14
B. Keys to Success. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
1. Designing Effective State Policy Frameworks . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
State Policy: Opening the Door to Competency-Based Pathways . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16
2. Application of Knowledge Requires Holistic Set of Competencies. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18
3. Opportunity to Teach. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19
4. Cultivating a Culture of Continuous Improvement . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20
5. Engaging Community Early and Often. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21

III. Challenges in Designing Competency-Based Pathways . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22


Challenge 1: Protecting High Levels of Proficiency . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22
Challenge 2: Re-Engineering for Student Learning . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23
Challenge 3: Integrating Student Information and Learning Management Systems . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24
Challenge 4: Aligning Incentives for Students, Educators, and Communities. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25
Challenge 5: Nurturing Organic Expansion and Innovation Space . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 26
Opportunities for Philanthropic Investments. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28

IV. Concluding Remarks. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30


Appendix A: Descriptions of Innovators. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 32
Appendix B: Resources. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 36
Appendix C: Interviews. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 37
Endnotes. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 38

When Success Is the Only Option: Designing Competency-Based Pathways for Next Generation Learning 3
Introduction

This exploration into competency-based innovation


In a proficiency system, at the school, district, and state levels suggests
failure or poor performance that competency-based pathways are a
may be part of the students re-engineering of our education system around
learning curve, but it is not an learninga re-engineering designed for success
outcome. in which failure is no longer viable.

P roficiency-Based Instruction Competency-based approaches build upon standards


and Assessment, Oregon reforms, offering a new value proposition for our
Education Roundtable
education system. Frequently, competency-based
policy is described as simply flexibility in awarding
credit or defined as an alternative to the Carnegie
unit. Yet, this does not capture the depth of the transformation of our education system from a
time-based system to a learning-based system. Competency-based approaches are being used at all
ages from elementary school to graduate school level, focusing the attention of teachers, students,
parents, and the broader community on students mastering measurable learning topics.

Certainly, much of the interest in competency-based learning is inspired by the enormous


technological advancements that are opening up new avenues for learning. With the exception of
Florida, all other virtual schools are stuck in a time-based system. With funding still dependent on
seat-time, they are confined to operating within traditional school-based course schedules. Without
a competency-based policy framework, they are unable to take advantage of the full potential of
online learning. We simply cannot generate the anytime, anyplace, at any rate learning offered by
the technologically enhanced innovations within the current time-based policy framework of seat-
time-based funding, 180-day calendars, restrictions on when students can enroll in new courses,
and end-of-year testing for exams.

Competency-based approaches also hold promise as districts explore new ways to expand and enrich
support to students, challenging the assumption that learning takes place within the classroom.
Out-of-school-time initiatives in Providence, Rhode Island, are exploring ways in which students
can learn skills in after-school programs. In Chicago, the district is piloting a program for extended
learning in which students can access online learning with support of staff from community-based

4 INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION for K-12 Online Learning


organizations. For older students re-enrolling in high school, competency-based schools are a lifeline,
as it is physically impossible to accumulate credits before they age-out of the education system.
Competency-based approaches, in which learning topics are explicitly shared with students and
parents, create a formal mechanism to align community resources around student success.

The following discussion draws on interviews and site visits with innovators and the limited literature
that has been developed on the topic of competency-based approaches. The first section introduces
a working definition for competency-based pathways that hopefully will be the beginning of
creating consensus on the characteristics of a high-quality approach to guide policy. The second
section explores the driving forces behind competency-based innovations and implementation
issues. The last section highlights a number of challenges facing states and districts as they explore
competency-based approaches.

This paper has been designed to generate a deeper understanding, as it is critically important that
competency-based pathways be implemented effectively with a vigilant focus on student learning.
Otherwise, we risk creating an empty system that undermines our nations efforts to raise standards
and expectations for our children and ourselves.

When Success Is the Only Option: Designing Competency-Based Pathways for Next Generation Learning 5
On Creating a New Grammar
The issue of language is always a challenge when new concepts or paradigms are introduced. In
order to not stumble upon the variety of catchy slogans and similar principles that are floating
through education policy discussions, the following language will be used throughout this paper:

(1) Competency-Based Pathways:


(a) Multiple phrases are used by foundations, innovators, and state policy to capture the practice
of students progressing upon mastery: standards-based, outcomes-based, performance-based,
and proficiency-based. The use of competency-based has been selected as it is has already
entered federal policy with its inclusion in Race to the Top (RTTT) and the subsequent state
applications. In the second round of RTTT, nearly one third of the states included some reference
to competency-based options for students, with almost all describing strategies to ensure that
teachers master competencies.

(b) The phrase pathway is used instead of system intentionally. Based on the current
developmental stage of competency-based approaches, there is no reason nor is it viable to try
to fully replace the traditional time-based system in its entirety. Although there are examples of
district and school options for a full conversion to a competency-based system, the assumption
is that most innovators and early adopters will seek to create pathways that complement and
inform the traditional, time-based system.

(2) Next Generation Learning (NxGL):


There are numerous branded initiatives across the country, many of them foundation-led, that are
focused on promoting a mix of online learning, student-centric, competency-based approaches.
Although often similar in principles, the variety of similar terms can cause confusion for policymakers
and directs attention away from the core issues.

The definition developed by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) is embraced within this
paper as it has the broadest roots within the education system itself. In partnership with six states
Kentucky, Maine, New York, Ohio, West Virginia, and WisconsinCCSSO is launching innovative labs
to support next generation learning that is rooted in six critical attributes, or essential conditions:

1. Planning for Personalized Learning calls for a data-driven framework to set goals, assess
progress, and ensure students receive the academic and developmental support they need.

2. Comprehensive Systems of Supports address physical, social, emotional, and cognitive


development along a continuum of services, availing opportunities for success to all students.

3. World-class Knowledge and Skills require achievement goals to sufficiently encompass the
content knowledge and skills required for success in a globally oriented world.

4. Performance-based Learning puts students at the center of the learning process by enabling
the demonstration of mastery based on high, clear, and commonly shared expectations.

5. Anytime, Everywhere Opportunities provide constructive learning experiences in all aspects


of a childs life, through both the geographic and the Internet-connected community.

6. Authentic Student Voice is the deep engagement of students in directing and owning their
individual learning and shaping the nature of the education experience among their peers.

6 INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION for K-12 Online Learning


Our economy and overall way of life are changing
and will change more in the coming years. The time
has come for schooling to keep pace. If we want to
improve our collective prospects for the future, we
must increase the number of people who possess the
skills and knowledge that prepare them for success in
postsecondary education, work and life. This means
improving learning outcomes for all populations. In
our current system, young people from disadvantaged
backgrounds are too often kept back to repeat grades
because they fail to attain arbitrary, age-based
benchmarks that still define the dominant design
of most schools. By acknowledging that different
students learn at different rates and attending to
those differences as part of the educational endeavor,
we can ensure equal opportunity by customizing
appropriately without sacrificing high expectations.

Nicholas C. Donohue, President and


CEO, Nellie Mae Education Foundation

When Success Is the Only Option: Designing Competency-Based Pathways for Next Generation Learning 7
I. A Working Definition of
Competency-Based Pathways

As we expand innovative competency-based approaches, it is important to build a working


definition that can shape the characteristics of a high-quality, competency-based pathway that is
focused on learning. The following is a three-part working definition that outlines the critical design
principles of a competency-based pathway that can serve as a starting point for discussion:

Students advance upon mastery

Explicit and measurable learning objectives that empower students

Assessment is meaningful and a positive learning experience for students

There is a tremendous risk in considering competency-based approaches as equivalent to credit


flexibility. Simply unhooking credits from the Carnegie unit could contribute to a new mechanism for
institutionalizing low expectations. Our challenge is to design competency-based pathways so that
they replace the time-based system with a set of practices that propel students toward mastery of
college and career-ready skills.

Design Principle 1: Students Advance upon Mastery


The core element of a competency-based approach is that students progress to more advanced
work upon demonstration of learning by applying specific skills and content. The most important
implications of this design principle include:

Students are advanced to higher-level work upon demonstration of mastery, not


age. It is possible that a ten-year-old student may be doing fourth grade math but reading
at the eighth grade level. A high school student may be taking algebra while completing
advanced online courses in college-level literature and history, earning dual-enrollment credits.
In the United Kingdom, this is referred to as organizing education around stage not age.

Students work at levels that are appropriately challenging. Students are more likely
to be intrinsically motivated when they are encountering coursework that is both challenging
and in which they can be successful.1 Students are empowered to progress at their own
pace, becoming active, engaged, and more independent learners.

8 INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION for K-12 Online Learning


Students are evaluated on performance. Students demonstrate that they have mastered
the skills and content through multiple demonstrations of learning. Students are not graded
subjectively or unevenlybased on indicators such as attendance, submitting homework
assignments, or classroom participationunless those behaviors are built into competencies.

Some students may complete courses more rapidly than others. Essentially, all
students will achieve A- or B-level work or will try again. This may mean that some
students may complete the courses sooner than others.

Earning credits is based upon demonstration of mastery, not seat-time. Teachers


work together to clarify the standards of proficiency for a course to ensure that high
expectations are consistently implemented across classrooms.

DESIGN PRINCIPLE 2: Explicit and Measurable Learning Objectives


That Empower Students
In competency-based practices, a course is organized into measurable learning objectives that
are shared with students. Students take responsibility for their learning, thereby increasing their
engagement and motivation. The implications of this design principle include:

The relationship between student and teacher is fundamentally changed.


Teachers take on a stronger role as facilitator and coach of learning rather than simply
delivering content. The skills required of teaching increasingly focus on formative assessment
and access to a broad range of instructional practices to help students that are struggling
with a concept.

The unit of learning becomes modular. Mastering learning objectives provides a


sense of progress and accomplishment. Students that change schools in the middle of the
semester gain value for their work that was completed even if they didnt complete the
entire course. This is particularly important given the high mobility of students in low-income
neighborhoods.

Learning expands beyond the classroom. Students may learn outside of the classroom
with informal and formal learning opportunities, digital learning, the help of youth programs
and mentors, or independently, in order to practice and apply the skills and content of a
clear learning objective.2

Design Principle 3: Assessment Is Meaningful and a Positive


Learning Experience for Students3
In a competency-based model, the traditional approach to assessment and accountability of
learning is turned on its head with assessments for learning. Formative assessments are aligned
with learning objectives. Students receive immediate feedback when assessment occurs. This is
used to encourage students to return to difficult concepts and skills until they achieve mastery. It
is essential that assessments are student-centered in which students are assessed on material with
which they are familiar.4 In order for competency-based pathways to offer high-quality education,
the following must be put into place:

When Success Is the Only Option: Designing Competency-Based Pathways for Next Generation Learning 9
Schools embrace a strong emphasis
on formative assessment. The Oregon In most school reform efforts
Education Roundtable claims that in the focus is on the schools.
a proficiency-based system, formative The question we typically
assessment drives instruction and therefore ask is, Why arent schools
has primacy over summative assessment.5 performing as they should?
Schools will need to provide information Perhaps a key reason were
management systems to support teachers, so dissatisfied with the state
including learning management systems of public K12 education is
that are integrated with student information that weve been asking the
systems.6 With the help of sophisticated, wrong question. If we asked
integrated information systems, teachers can instead, Why arent students
easily identify where students are struggling, learning? perhaps we might
and principals can identify where teachers see things that others have
are having difficulty in helping their students yet to perceive. After all, its
master concepts. the childrens performance
Teachers collaborate to develop that should concern us. The
understanding of what is an adequate performance of a school is
demonstration of proficiency. Proficiency little more than the sum of the
for any specific learning objective and for performance of its students.
the competencies required for course Rethinking Student Motivation,
completion must be understood and Clayton M. Christensen,
meaningful to the teachers. Teachers must Michael B. Horn, and Curtis W.
share a clear understanding of what students Johnson

need to demonstrate before they advance


to higher levels.

Teachers assess skills or concepts in multiple contexts and multiple ways. Just
as a doctor has many tools for assessing patient needs, teachers will assess proficiency
through multiple demonstrations of learning. All of the competency-based innovators who
were interviewed suggested that students must demonstrate proficiency multiple times
to ensure that they are completely comfortable with the material. Examples of techniques
used by innovators to assess student knowledge and level of proficiency included formative
assessments, digital learning tools, performance-based assessments, presentations, and
peer-to-peer instruction.

Attention on student learning, not student grades. In competency-based approaches,


student progress is often categorized in three or four levels that capture 1) mastery or high
performance; 2) proficient; and 3) novice or still working toward proficiency. Grades may still
be used to rank progress toward proficiency. Essentially, students progress when they have
demonstrated A- or B-level work. Students may not progress with a C or lower as they have
not demonstrated proficiency.

Summative assessments are adaptive and timely. Students are assessed on the learning
objectives (skills and concepts) for which they have demonstrated proficiency. Tests to assess
degree of mastery, such as the Advanced Placement (AP) exam, should be available when
students have completed courses with proficiency, rather than at only one point each year,
so that they may move on immediately to the next level of their studies.

10 INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION for K-12 Online Learning


We need to redefine the way we credential student
learning. We learned in Kentucky that when we
waived seat-time and began to think more broadly
about what constitutes authentic evidence of learning,
we unleashed individual teachers ingenuity to
provide interventions on a very personalized basis.
The option also helped district leaders implement
entire new programs and services that could not
have been delivered in the traditional calendar,
schedule and constraints of the Carnegie unit. With
implementation of the common core, we have
unprecedented opportunity to focus on measuring
each individual students progress towards known
goals. We are moving towards a clear vision of what
success means and that vision of success is not
defined by time or place. So, its time to put these two
concepts together and begin shifting policy to next
generation systems of learning that are performance
and competency-based.

Gene Wilhoit, Council of Chief State


School Officers

When Success Is the Only Option: Designing Competency-Based Pathways for Next Generation Learning 11
II. Insights from Pockets of Innovation

The scan of the field found a limited number of innovators who have fully developed competency-
based models but signs that there is a ripple of interest across the country. Evidence from the early
innovators including Diploma Plus, Chugach Alaska School District, and Florida Virtual School are
encouraging. Yet, there is a dearth of formal documentation, research, or evaluation on competency-
based approaches.7 Many of the claims of the value of competency-based learning are not yet
substantiated. Thus, it is safe to say that we are in the early stages of the innovation curve, with signs
of early adoption beginning to take hold. A concern is that as districts and schools try their hand at
competency-based approaches, they will have only a handful of knowledgeable technical assistance
providers, most in relatively early stages of developing their organizational capacity.

This investigation relied heavily on interviews, site visits, and a survey to update the literature in the
field of competency-based pathways in K12 education. In the discussion below, the key findings
are organized to expand the current body of knowledge, providing insights into the barriers and
opportunities arising in the early stages of innovation and adoption. The first section explores the
dynamics that are leading to competency-based innovations. The second focuses on implementation
issues raised by innovators.

A. Drivers of Innovation
1. Overcoming Inequities Produced by a Time-Based System
Innovators consistently cited a growing frustration with stagnant levels of low achievement and
seeing students fall farther behind as their inspiration and motivation for exploring competency-
based approaches. There is agreement among the innovators that the time-based system is holding
students back from accelerating their learning while also ensuring that others who are chronically
behind will never master the materials needed to prepare them for college. Competency-based
approaches confront the systemic elements that are holding inequity in place, contributing to a
deeper understanding of the larger underpinnings of time-based policy and funding models.

Farrington and Small in A New Model of Student Assessment for the 21st Century8 outline the ways
in which the time-based system, resting upon the Carnegie unit, ensures that a portion of students
will begin to fall behind, and often out of school. Students and teachers have to race the clock to

12 INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION for K-12 Online Learning


complete course materials with no opportunity or incentive to improve performance after grades
are given. Students earning Cs and Ds may progress in school and even earn their high school
diploma but may not be prepared for post-secondary education or training, requiring developmental
education. For students that prematurely leave school, the disincentives to re-engage in learning are
looming; woefully behind in skills and credits, they face years of seat-time at the point they are near
to aging out of the K12 system. Furthermore, those that re-enroll with renewed motivation find
that their failures are locked into their grade point average. According to Farrington and Small:

Under this traditional model, a small proportion of students in urban schools do well, but
significant numbers fail to graduate, and the majority of those who do are inadequately
prepared for college or the workplace. Other factors, too, affect student achievement in urban
schools, such as the quality of teaching and instructional leadership, characteristics of school
culture and organization, and the availability of adequate resources. But even in a well-resourced
classroom with a highly qualified teacher in a caring and challenging school environment, a
heterogeneous group of students will be stratified in their achievement when learning time
is held constant. Those who demonstrate achievement above a bare minimum level will be
awarded course credit at the rate of one Carnegie unit per 120 hours of seat time, whether
or not they have mastered requisite skills and content knowledge. Final letter grades will be
communicated on report cards, permanently recorded on student transcripts, and calculated into
grade point averages.

At a time in which our economic health and national security are riding on our ability to lift up our
education system, we simply cannot afford to continue without questioning the constraints of the
time-based system.

2. Growing Demand
There are four forces that are driving interest in competency-based approaches.

Online Learning: Online learning is becoming increasingly in demand as schools seek to


level the playing field for all students to access high-quality courses. Demand for online
courses is primarily driven by the unavailability of courses (40 percent of high schools do not
offer Advanced Placement courses) and by the necessity to meet individual student needs.9
Thirty-two states have state virtual schools delivering online courses to students in any
district in the state.10 In the United States, 75 percent of school districts offer online courses11
in K12 education, and student enrollments are growing at a rapid pace of 30 percent
annually. Online learning is also expanding options for credit recovery and helping to address
teacher shortages in science, technology, engineering, math (STEM), and foreign languages.
Many of the benefits of online learning are lost due to reliance on the time-based systems.
Thus, iNACOL has identified expanding competency-based policy to drive student-centered,
next generation learning models as their highest priority on their agenda.

Multiple Pathways to Graduation: Districts across the country are establishing multiple
pathways to graduation by increasing the number of options for students that are over-aged
and under-credited, those missing a few credits to graduate, and those that left prematurely
due to life circumstances or the need to work.12 Students in multiple pathways schools and
programs tend to be older and are confronted by policies that determine when they will

When Success Is the Only Option: Designing Competency-Based Pathways for Next Generation Learning 13
age-out of the K12 system. They simply
cannot afford the seat-time required by the We were standing on a
Carnegie unit. Even still, there are waiting lists platform that was burning
across the country for alternative educational out from under us. What we
opportunities designed to accelerate progress were doing was not working
toward graduation. for us. We had dismal results
State and District Budget Deficits: Given in all areas of student
the economic downturn, across the country performance.
leaders are questioning the costs built into
In the Reinventing Schools
the time-based systems such as remediation,
Model Theres nobody that
summer school, and developmental education
can get through with a C.
at the college level. Thus, reforms that offer
We call that developing
greater cost-effectiveness are gaining more
theyre still working on
attention.
it. When they move to a
Low-Performing Schools and Districts: proficient or advanced
As our country takes on the challenge of level, then theyre allowed to
improving the lowest performing schools, progress to the next level. So
there is a growing concern that the models thats why we feel our system
proposed by the U.S. Department of is a little more accountable:
Education are difficult to implement in rural You cant slide through with
areas. Both Chugach (rural) and Adams low scores.
County 50 (suburban) turned to competency-
based reforms that replaced the inequities of Robert Crumley, Superintendent
of Chugach School District (CSD)
the time-based practices to find solutions to in Anchorage, Alaska10
the low performance in their districts.

Whether this growing interest kindles real demand is


dependent on policy, financing, and public will.

3. Exploring Multiple Points of Entry


Innovators are finding a number of starting points for introducing competency-based models into
the education system. Yet, there is inadequate research to determine if any one starting point
is more valuable than another. Examples of the innovators working at different entry points are
highlighted below.

Classroom Practices
The standards-based practices promoted by Marzano Research Laboratory can be easily
employed by teachers in traditional schools. These practices include the design of educational
objectives with appropriate tasks to assess student learning and standards-based grading.
In addition, there is growth in the use of adaptive software tools that are introducing a
competency-based approach with content and embedded assessments within classrooms.

School Design
At the school level, there are a number of models that are being replicated or adapted including

14 INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION for K-12 Online Learning


Diploma Plus, Young Womens Leadership Charter School, the Big Picture Learning schools, and
Performance Learning Centers. In Oregon, six districts are working to integrate competency-
based practices into their schools. One state, Florida, has been able to shape the policy
environment to establish a performance-based virtual school.

District Reforms
At the district level, Chugach has demonstrated results and their leadership has formed an
independent nonprofit, the Reinventing Schools Coalition (RISC), to coach and support other
districts like Adams County 50, Colorado, and Kansas City, Missouri.13

State Policy
There is activity at the state level to expand policies to offer credit options to seat-time.
New Hampshire and Oregon are leading the way in formulating state policy that focuses on
creating fully developed competency-based systems. Federal leverage through the Race to the
Top program has prompted some scattered activity for states to include competency-based
approaches in their strategies, although some efforts appear to be shallow.

Federal Policy
The U.S. Department of Education has been referencing competency-based approaches in their
major grant competitions. Although none were successful, at least four proposals for the i3
grant competition included competency-based approaches.

At this time, the geographic regions where the pockets of innovation are taking place are rarely
overlapping. Certainly, each of the points of entry provides insights into how a comprehensive
competency-based system might operate. Yet this isolation makes it difficult to build knowledge or
easily begin to align practice and policy.

B. Keys to Success
1. Designing Effective State Policy Frameworks
There are three important lessons to be gained from the review of state policy highlighted on
page 16. First, creating waivers for Carnegie units is an important first step, but it is inadequate
for opening up innovative space for competency-based approaches to take root. It assumes that a
competency-based approach is created by simply eliminating seat-time. As discussed, competency-
based pathways are focused on student learning, not just credits. Both New Hampshire and Oregon
have been working with districts and schools to uproot the traditional system and replace it with
one that is focused on learning.

Second, it is clear that simply changing policy at the state level is not enough to catalyze
competency-based systems. In Oregon, there was little uptake on the credit options until the
Department of Education provided substantial leadership by establishing a Credit for Proficiency
Task Force and invested in pilots. New Hampshires strategy includes setting up regional networks to
provide technical assistance to districts and schools. States will need to create intentional strategies
to work in partnership with districts and schools if they are to effectively expand competency-based
practices and pathways.

When Success Is the Only Option: Designing Competency-Based Pathways for Next Generation Learning 15
Third, enabling credit flexibility is a critical step but most likely one of the easier pieces of policy
infrastructure that will need to be in place. The knowledge generated by the Council of Chief
State School Officers initiative on next generation learning promises to hold valuable insights into
how information and accountability systems will need to be adjusted, how funding structures
are modified, and what quality control methods are needed to ensure that there is a shared
understanding of proficiency.

The U.S. Department of Education can play a catalytic role in helping states shape comprehensive
policies to support competency-based pathways and create the innovation space by integrating
competency-based practices as a core element of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act
(ESEA). It will be important to engage advocates for high-needs studentsincluding special
education, English language learners, and students off-track to graduationby ensuring that
students have the support they need without necessarily relying on regulations that are designed in
response to the traditional time-based system.

In summary, state policymakers should eliminate barriers to competency-based systems immediately.


Ensuring that students are not held back by the rigidity of the Carnegie unit is an essential first
step. In addition, there must be a vigilant focus on quality control so that poorly implemented
competency-based approaches do not undermine our nations efforts to improve achievement.
Finally, districts and schools need to be supported in creating the independent space required for
innovation. It is not recommended that states boldly try to replace the entire traditional time-based
system with a competency-based system, as we are at such early stages of understanding how a full
system will work.

State Policy: Opening the Door to Competency-Based


Pathways
In interviews, state policy regarding the Carnegie unit is often referred to as the greatest barrier
to competency-based pathways. There is a fair amount of activity at the state level to address this
issue. There appear to be three models by which states are moving forward: waiver, credit flexibility,
and redesign.

Waiver: Most states have created a minimum policy that provides a waiver for students to
get credits for competency, rather than the time-based Carnegie unit. Idaho is an example of
a state depending on a waiver process to allow competency-based credits. Their policy states
that one credit shall equal sixty (60) hours of total instruction. School districts or local education
agencies (LEAs) may request a waiver from this provision by submitting a lettersigned by the
superintendent and chair of the board of trustees of the district or LEAto the State Department
of Education for approval. The waiver request has to provide information and documentation that
substantiates the school district or LEAs reason for not requiring sixty (60) hours of total
instruction per credit.

16 INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION for K-12 Online Learning


Credit Flexibility: Increasingly, states are creating policies that enable credit flexibility. This has
primarily been in response to the expansion of online learning and credit recovery. These policies
tend to provide districts with the capacity to use competency-based assessments instead of seat-
time with little guidance for ensuring quality or consistency across the state. It is up to the districts to
take advantage of this enabling policy to move beyond limited credit recovery to competency-based
systems that are focused on learning.

Alabama created a seat-time policy in 2009in the context of improving high school graduation
rates. The policy states that one credit may be granted in Grade 9-12 for required or elective course
consisting of a minimum of 140 instructional hours or in which students demonstrate mastery of
Alabama course of study content standards in one-credit courses without specified instructional
time. Similar language was written for one-half credit and 70 instructional hours.Currently, nearly
50 percent of the districts in Alabama are taking advantage of the enabling policy to provide credit
recovery and/or credit advancement.14

Kentuckys state policy empowers schools to award competency-based credits if the school site-
based council has developed criteria for determining proficiency. In Kentucky, there are efforts to
create competency-based pathways in foreign language, including discussions on a graduation
requirement that every student must demonstrate a minimum proficiency to align with University of
Kentuckys admission criteria.

Ohios Credit Flexibility policy is much broader, designed to include distance-learning, afterschool
programs, internships, and community service. The policy is constructed as a waiver, with districts
seeking state approval. Local boards will govern their credit flexibility policies, and teachers are
empowered to award the credits. The policy is designed for high school students, providing multiple
ways to gain credit, including seat-time, testing out, or demonstration of proficiency. It also allows
for simultaneous credit in two areas, as well as partial credit.

Since 2002, Oregon has enabled districts and schools to use proficiency-based approaches through
an administrative rule for credit options. In 2004, the Department of Education initiated pilot
programs. More recently, the Department of Education has updated its policies and has begun
investing in pilot programs in six districts. In 2009, the policy was expanded with the expectation
that districts will offer students the option of seat-time or demonstration of proficiency.

Redesign: New Hampshire has taken the boldest step in declaring a full high school redesign,
replacing the time-based system with a competency-based system. New Hampshires comprehensive
approach is designed around three themes: 1) personalization; 2) students as active learners;
and, 3) choice and flexibility for where and when learning occurs. It eliminates the Carnegie unit,
replaces it with a competency-based system, and allows students to earn credit toward graduation
outside of traditional classrooms. The Concord Area Center for Educational Support (CACES) is
taking a leadership role in supporting districts and schools as they redesign, helping to clarify the
competencies students are expected to master. In addition to academics, there are cross-cutting
competencies such as communication skills and problem solving.

When Success Is the Only Option: Designing Competency-Based Pathways for Next Generation Learning 17
2. Application of Knowledge Requires Holistic Set of Competencies
Innovators reinforced the concept that the application of knowledge and skills was integral to
a competency-based approach. Jim Schnitz of Western Governors University explained that
competency contains both the understanding of content and a component of performance. The
creative challenge is to ensure that the learning objectives are measurable and that the competencies
can be demonstrated. This is more difficult with some areas than with others and is likely to require
attention in ensuring quality across all knowledge domains.

The application or demonstration of skills was described differently across the innovators, although
they all shared an understanding that competencies needed to integrate academic content and skills
with soft skills such as critical analysis, creativity, communication, and problem solving. Diploma
Plus uses Blooms Taxonomy to structure their competencies. Adams County 50 had a set of social-
emotional competencies to complement the academic standards. Thus, the competencies were
often student-centered, integrating strong youth development perspectives.

Following are examples from Chugachs Highland Tech Highs Social Environments standards area
that apply to history and geography.15

Level 1
Inquisitive Thought and Creativity Develops questions to focus inquiry and analysis
Information Processing Tools Summarized information through restatement
Logic and Reasoning Systems Explores the differences between primary and secondary sources
Understanding Variability and Point of View Identifies and describes opposing viewpoints
Mastering Action Forms opinions based on examination of evidence
Level 3
Inquisitive Thought and Creativity Identifies and describes times when alternative courses of action
would have changed the outcome of events
Information Processing Tools States relationships between categories of information
Logic and Reasoning Systems Develops appropriate criteria for comparing and contrasting
information
Understanding Variability and Point of View Compares and contrasts opposing viewpoints
Mastering Action Forms, expresses, and explains opposing points of view on issues
Level 6
Inquisitive Thought and Creativity Develops a creative solution to a current issue based on available
information
Information Processing Tools Analyzes the impact and credibility of information from various media
outlets
Logic and Reasoning Systems Evaluates the lasting impact of primary source documents
Understanding Variability and Point of View Analyzes opposing viewpoints to determine a course of action
Mastering Action Implements an action plan to influence those in power regarding a
contemporary issue

Innovators of competency-based approaches have designed competencies and levels slightly


differently, as well as the tools to support the system. This promises continued creativity and
variations as early adopters experiment with the design and tools. Similarly, it may create challenges
as practices are lifted into policy.

18 INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION for K-12 Online Learning


3. Opportunity to Teach
In Proficiency-Based Instruction and Assessment, the Oregon Education Roundtable states, In
a proficiency-based system, teachers flourish as much as students. The results from Chugach
reinforce this. After three years of competency-based approaches, Chugach teachers approached
the administration to ask if their evaluations could be based around student performance instead
of traditional one-size-fits-all assessments that were unrelated to their competency-based teaching
models. In Chugach, using competency-based learning significantly increased satisfaction and
greatly reduced teacher turnover rates. Before moving toward competency-based learning in 1994,
Chugach school district had a 55 percent annual rate of teacher turnover during the previous 20
years. After moving toward competency-based learning, between 1995 and 2000, teacher turnover
dropped to 12 percent annually.16

Anecdotal evidence suggests that some of the by-products of competency-based approaches are
increased teacher engagement, a shift in professional culture, and changes in the teachers role.17
The process of teachers assessing student performance on explicit learning topics, becoming familiar
with examples of proficiency, and evaluating master in advanced performance requires teachers to
talk with one another about their own expectations, both horizontally with their grade-level peers
and vertically. Those we interviewed said that simply focusing on learning and helping students
created greater job satisfaction.

Yet these early innovators all engaged teachers early on, requiring their support before moving into
implementation. One of the risks of any top-down policy initiative is that teachers will perceive it as
a burden rather than an opportunity to rediscover their joy of teaching.

Once we free ourselves from a factory model and the time practices handcuffed
to that structure, we must rethink such unquestioned time-honored practices as:

Grouping kids in grades;


Grading as a way to communicate what has been learned;
Moving kids around based on bell schedules;
Separating subjects divided into discrete time blocks; and,
Connecting high school graduation with Carnegie units.

Schools can no longer be expected to change and still look the same. Its time to
get away from the legacy of the factory that imprisons us, as educators, as well as
the students we teach. We know that a cage for every age is an archaic and dys-
functional way to group students. Its for us to start questioning the sacred ritu-
als of schools and school systems. We can use time as the catalyst to do just that.

Dr. Ellen Bernstein, President of the Albuquerque Teachers Federation, Testimony at the
U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Field Hearing on Innovative
Approaches to School Time, 2010

When Success Is the Only Option: Designing Competency-Based Pathways for Next Generation Learning 19
4. Cultivating a Culture of Continuous Improvement
Competency-based approaches enable meaningful continuous improvement processes at a depth
that has never before been seen in education. Case in point, Chugach School District received the
Malcolm Baldrige National Quality award for organizational excellence in 2001.

There are two reasons why continuous improvement suddenly takes root in competency-based
systems. First, competency-based approaches require a heavier emphasis on formative assessment
and responsiveness when students are struggling. With a focus on whether or not students are
mastering the skills, teachers become engaged in exploring new ways to help students.

Second, by breaking courses into discrete learning objectives and monitoring student learning
trajectories supported by a student information system, principals are able to gather indicators of
progress in a much more granular and timely way than end-of-course grades or summative testing.
This allows principals, as instructional leaders, to keep an eye on which areas teachers are having
difficulty in supporting their students or identify any schoolwide patterns that are causing students
to stumble. Peer support and professional development are then targeted toward those areas.

Adams County 50 provides a good case study. Dr. Copper Stoll explained that once they started
down the path, the culture of continuous improvement required them to turn over rocks,
bringing more issues to light. Very quickly, the district began to reallocate resources around learning
management goals. In order to build on assets at the elementary school level, some teachers began
to specialize in math so that all students could have a chance to work with the most effective
teachers. They discovered that Everyday Mathematics, which depends on spiraling, is a mismatch
with their standards-based approach. Thus, they are searching for curriculum that matches their
learning objectives.

They are also beginning to rethink career ladders for teachers. They are considering creating
opportunities for master teachers, interdisciplinary teachers, and instructors that are skilled in
differentiated instruction.

Competency-based is the antithesis of social promotion. A competency-based


pathway creates more equitable outcomes for students because each is allowed
to show evidence of their knowledge and their progress in defined competencies
through authentic and student-responsive assessments. In a system like Diploma
Plus, students learn to own their learning, rather than inherit it (or not) from
their instructors as in many traditional systems of learning. Students, teachers
and families can be more assured that students have mastered content, because
they must demonstrate competency in that content at the pace appropriate
for each.

A kili Moses Israel, Diploma Plus

20 INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION for K-12 Online Learning


If a district embraces competency-based education as its overall reform model, it must be
prepared to establish a culture of continuous improvement. Without it, there is always the risk that
flawed implementation will lead to low achievement. A full, competency-based approach is a re-
engineering overhaul that requires revisions, modifications, and sometimes a complete reworking of
each component of a districts operations. This doesnt have to be done all at once. Yet leadership
will need to be prepared to offer strong change management.

5. Engaging Community Early and Often


All of the interviewees suggested that engaging parents and students in the implementation of a
competency-based approach was much easier than anticipated. The shared experience of mastering
the initial levels of video games before progressing to the next is easily translated into competency-
based approaches. Its a message that resonates with students. Demonstrating proficiency on
learning objectives is strikingly similar to earning merit badges in camp or after school.

The districts that converted to competency-based models such as Chugach and Adams County 50
heavily emphasized the importance of fully engaging
all stakeholders: parents, students, teachers, and
the broader community. Both districts invested in
The achievement gap is a prod-
community engagement early on with presentations
uct of a time-based system.
in town-hall-type meetings to garner feedback on
The moral purpose that drives
what learning should look like for the 21st century
competency-based approaches
and to identify the competencies for college and
is proficiency for all.
career readiness. Adams County 50 took two years
in the engagement process, not moving forward Dr. Copper Stoll, Adams County 50
with implementation until they had 80 percent of the
teachers supporting the reform.

One of the challenges was to prepare students and parents for the implications of having graduation
dependent on mastery of a set of competencies. Schools would no longer grant diplomas to
students that had been skating by with mediocre grades and large gaps in learning. Adams County
50, avoiding having to explain to parents that their students needed to remain in school longer
while they completed their high school education, began their rollout of competency-based reforms
at the elementary school level.

When Success Is the Only Option: Designing Competency-Based Pathways for Next Generation Learning 21
III. Challenges in Designing
Competency-Based Pathways

There is no doubt that there are multiple challenges to expanding competency-based pathways.
Leadership, vision, and creativity are required to reconfigure the education system so that it is
designed for success for all students. These challenges need to be confronted head-on in order to
construct high-quality policy platforms to support competency-based pathways.

Challenge 1: Protecting High Levels of Proficiency


There is nothing inherent in competency-based approaches that guarantees that disadvantaged
children will achieve at high levels. Jill Powers Kirk of Oregon Business Council expressed the concern
that the biggest risk is that teachers set proficiency on learning objectives too low. Or if educators
direct resources toward students who are progressing most rapidly and away from students who
are struggling, the current achievement gaps would continue. There is also a concern that the
achievement gap may expand, even if all students are achieving at higher levels. In lifting the ceiling
on how rapidly students may advance, the actual value of the economic, cultural, and social capital
of higher-income families may produce higher learning gains. Dinner-table conversation, exposure to
careers and interests of friends and family, and summer enrichment activities are likely to generate
motivation, background knowledge, and skills that accelerate learning. Upper-income students with
multiple enrichment activities may be able to speed through courses as they apply concepts and
knowledge learned outside of school.

Even so, competency-based pathways hold great promise as they are designed for success, not
failure. Thus, vigilance is required to protect against unintended consequences and mismatched
incentives. Florida Virtual School (FLVS) demonstrates a solid understanding of the dynamics of a
competency-based system. FLVS has open enrollment so that students can enter a course at any
time and complete the modules at their own pace. In a personalized learning environment, teachers
are able toand expected tointervene quickly when students start to fall behind or struggle with
a concept. Finally, the performance-based funding model aligns incentives around rapid response
when students show the earliest signs of disengagement. It may be that performance-based funding
is a necessary ingredient to ensuring high-quality competency-based practices.

One of the more controversial aspects of competency-based approaches is when schools decide to
group students based on their level of proficiency so that teachers can work more intensively with

22 INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION for K-12 Online Learning


them. At first glance this may look like a form of tracking. Yet, within competency-based systems,
students have the opportunity to advance in some topics while still taking extra time to progress in
others. Furthermore, there is no gate or test to place students in a certain group, and students can
easily be moved between groupings as they advance, especially with the opportunities provided by
online learning. Yet to be on the safe side, it is important to include experts in special education and
English language learners (ELL) in the early design of competency-based approaches to ensure that
tracking does not creep into the practices.

The Oregon Proficiency Project18 is building substantial knowledge on the changes in the classroom
that nurture a high-quality, competency-based program. It is also in the process of defining the
attributes that are required for a competency-based approach at the classroom, school, district, and
state levels. Oregons efforts are forming an initial base of knowledge to guide districts and schools
in establishing excellence in competency-based practices.

Challenge 2: Re-Engineering for Student Learning


There are four areas that were raised in conversations about the challenges of re-engineering for
competency-based systems. First, in our current policy environment, resources are being directed
toward information systems that are designed around accountability and compliance. The question
confronting competency-based efforts is whether they will be able to redesign management
information systems around student learning. Are we going to continue to simply digitize current
practices such as online grade books or are we going to step back and redesign the practices and
the supportive management information system so that learning maps will document student
progress in a way that is meaningful to students as they transition between schools, teachers, and
out-of-school learning opportunities? (See Challenge 3 for more on this topic.)

Second, given the highly interdependent nature of the education system, a full implementation of
a competency-based pathway is likely to require minor and major revisions throughout the system
infrastructure.19 As we move forward, it will be important to determine the types of modifications
needed, the complexity and cost of doing so, and the key leverage points in the system. For
example, unwinding our education system from the Carnegie unit will likely have implications for
budgeting, planning, and union work assignments and contracts. Issues of aligning student learning
with summative assessments are already arising. Can students take the high school exit exams at the
time they complete the level of work upon which the assessment is based, whether that is in eighth
grade or twelfth grade, spring or fall? Can students taking an online AP course complete the course
and take the test soon after so that they can progress
onto higher-level college courses, or do they have to
wait until May to take the exam? Proficiency approaches are
the leading edge of a set
Third, competency-based approaches may change the of practices that result in
way we think about and provide supplemental and greater effectiveness and
enrichment services. With response to intervention efficiency.
(RTI) built directly into the classroom practices,
intervention models and regulations for ELL and Jill Kirk Powers, Oregon
special education may need modification. Summer Business Council
school might be designed for students to work on

When Success Is the Only Option: Designing Competency-Based Pathways for Next Generation Learning 23
learning objectives with which they are struggling rather than having to sit through entire
courses again. Or students may continue to progress during the summer without participating
in formal schooling.

Finally, the requirements needed to run two systems simultaneouslydeveloping innovative


competency-based metrics while also trying to improve the traditional systemmay be too
cumbersome to be realistic. It appears that the burden will fall heavily on the school district. The
complexity of district management will increase if they are to juggle two sets of classroom grading
practices, semester marking periods, permanent letter grades and grade point averages, Carnegie
units/course credits, and high school transcripts. Going forward, it may make sense for districts to
create the innovative space to run competency-based efforts separately for the short run, to allow
the changes to take hold and thoroughly digest the ramifications for district policy.

Integrating Student Information and


Challenge 3:
Learning Management Systems
Although competency-based approaches have been used in the past, the advances in information
technology are enabling it for the first time to become truly operational. Competency-based systems
generate massive amounts of data about student learning. For teachers, the time required to
monitor each students progress in demonstrating competencies at the learning objective level is too
burdensome without an easy-to-use system. Without adequate technology, the paperwork involved
in competency-based systems can be overwhelming.

Two concerns were raised about the importance of


the information systems that are needed to support
there is far more standard- competency-based pathways. First, states are
ization than customization in continuing to expand and refine their accountability
schools. Schools teach using systems without taking into consideration the
a monolithic batch system. implications of competency-based pathways. Unless
When a class is ready to move the architecture of the system is changed, the data
on to a new concept, all stu- systems will be aligned to capture grade levels
dents move on, regardless and courses rather than competencies attained. The
of how many have mastered tremendous resources that are being absorbed in
the previous concept (even if these data system modernization efforts are aligned
it is a prerequisite for learn- around the traditional time-based system rather
ing what is next). Both the than thinking about the specifications need for
bored and the bewildered see accountability or next generation learning.
their motivation for achieve-
ment shredded by the system. Second, competency-based approaches require
technology to be relatively sophisticated, which
How Disruptive Innovation
is not always easy to do given the technological
Will Change the Way We Learn
by Clayton M. Christensen, infrastructure and resources in some districts. Jim
Michael B. Horn, and Curtis W. Schnitz of Western Governors University explained
Johnson. Education Week, June that a high-quality, competency-based approach
4, 2008.
required linking the architecture of two information
systems: 1) a student information system of data that

24 INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION for K-12 Online Learning


supports principals, teachers, and students; and 2) a learning management system that maintains
curricula, standards, and competencies. Thus, by integrating student information systems and learning
management systems, individual student learning plans can be developed, the student learning
trajectory monitored to ensure progression, and a deeper understanding of what helps the student to
succeed identified. As knowledge is gained about student learning styles, interests, and competencies
attained, the data system(s) of the future will be able to provide a view into each students learning
genome map and their progression toward college- and career-ready standards.

Consistently throughout the interviews, the use of technology to manage data around individualized
student learning was noted as critical to managing the processes, learning objectives, new
assessment models, rubrics, and performance data. Innovators are developing or adopting their
own systems, including DART (Data Analysis and Reporting Toolkit), E-ducate, and DiplomaPlus.net,
adding components along the way to better support teachers and principals. As an example, Adams
County 50 is working with E-ducate to design a student information system that is transparent so
that parents and students can monitor progress, while simultaneously encouraging students to
continue their learning over the summer and in extracurricular activities.

Aligning Incentives for Students, Educators,


Challenge 4:
and Communities
One of the underlying assumptions of next generation learning is that it creates a virtuous cycle.
Students are empowered; their intrinsic motivation is increased. Teachers take on the role of
coaches, further supporting students with greater personalization. Students feel respected and cared
for, experience success, and are further motivated. The challenge is to align the incentive structures
of policy, accountability, and funding to support customization.

Given that competency-based approaches are designed to produce outcomes in student


achievement, reward systems should also be focused, at least partially, on attainment. For example,
Florida Virtual School is funded based on successful completion and student performance. Teachers
have very clear incentives to respond to students upon the first signs of disengagement. In the
United Kingdom, schools are funded per pupil; at level 16, schools are funded based on individual
students credit attainment and lose money if students do not successfully earn credits. In contrast,
in the United States, federal, state, and local policies fund a time-based system, do not reward for
attainment, and direct policy through a compliance model, focusing on school-level (not student-
level) performance. Yet, redesigning funding is filled with its own pitfalls and obstacles.

Competency-based pathways will also raise the question of how to engage and reward the
organizations or people outside of the classroom that help students progress. This includes providing
access to the current learning objectives, funding, and giving credit or recognition for effectively
helping students learn. If students practice their skills in an after-school program, should that
program receive any recognition or funding for outcomes obtained? After-school programs and
summer camps may design around student progress, yet the adults may not be certified teachers.
Students may take advantage of digital tools or open education resources such as iTunes University
and HippoCampus. Will we be comfortable recognizing increased skills regardless of where students
developed them?

When Success Is the Only Option: Designing Competency-Based Pathways for Next Generation Learning 25
Nurturing Organic Expansion and
Challenge 5:
Innovation Space
At this stage, the growth of competency-based programming will most likely be organic. More
innovators and early adopters are expected to enter the field as competency-based policy platforms
are established, other innovations will be modified to include competency-based practices, and
some early adopters will branch off with alternative approaches. In addition, teachers will become
increasingly more familiar with the main concepts through Marzanos training and others that
promote standards-based practices. At this point, top-down approaches may be difficult primarily
because of the small pool of innovators and limited technical assistance capacity. Furthermore,
the policy and operational changes that need to be made at the district level have not been fully
explored or documented. New Hampshires approach in establishing regional technical assistance to
support districts in their high school redesign around competency-based learning will offer insight
into how to invest in implementation. CCSSOs project to support states in developing Innovation
Labs will help promote next generation learning design specifications for student-centered,
performance-based modelsthe heart of competency-based pathways.

It is equally important to recognize the need for innovation space so that new efforts and
adaptations may continue to develop their new approaches. It is no coincidence that two of the best
examples of competency-based schools were designed in protected innovation space and protected
by policies that allowed them to experiment without constraints.

Florida Virtual School was founded in 1997 with a $200,000 break the mold planning
grant. It was designed from its inception to create an out-of-the-box, student-centered
learning model. With individualized instruction, students move at their own pace through
a competency-based learning progression. Using a performance-based funding model in
which funding follows the student to the level of course enrollment, students have flexibility
in enrollment and completion of courses.

The Western Governors University started in 1995 as a joint venture by the members of
the Western Governors Association. With support from philanthropy, WGU was able to
design from scratch an organizational structure that supported competency-based learning.
Rather than the traditional structure of higher education that is organized around academic
domains, WGUs dynamic organizational structure is designed around the student. There
are three primary divisions: 1) degree programs that coordinate content from providers; 2)
assessments that determine how students will demonstrate mastery aligned with industry
standards; and 3) student support services, with each student assigned a mentor, to ensure
that students are progressing.

Yet, most schools are operating within the traditional policies and have to allocate resources in
order to navigate the policy environment. For example, both Diploma Plus and Big Picture Learning
had to do independent cross-walks to seat-time requirements for Californias A-G courses without
any benefit of waivers from the time-based system just to be able to run their competency-based
schools. Therefore, if we are going to see an increase in competency-based approaches, we will
need to create labs or protected space that allow the schools and districts to do fine-tuning of the
innovations to see the real value of the model.

26 INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION for K-12 Online Learning


In a RISC (Re-Inventing Schools Coalition) system,
everyone knows what the instructional targets are
and everyone works together to do whatever it takes
to get every child to those instructional targets. If it
takes a little more time for a particular student, it
takes a little more time. If it takes a little bit different
strategy for another student, then we do that.

We give extra and external opportunities to any


student who is capable of taking advantage of those.
We certainly dont insist that students sit in our
classrooms if we can find additional opportunities
whether in our district or outside itto help extend
their learning.

Greg Johnson, Director of Curriculum,


Bering Strait School District, from
Delivering on the Promise

When Success Is the Only Option: Designing Competency-Based Pathways for Next Generation Learning 27
Opportunities for Philanthropic Investments
One of the goals of this project was to develop a strategic framework to support coordination
of philanthropic investments. However, in discussions with program officers, it soon became
clear that for many foundations their strategies were still emerging. In addition, because foundations
use a variety of frames or focal pointsincluding assessments, student-centered approaches,
or discrete elements of next generation learningit appears that the timing is not right for a
coordinated strategy.

Yet, there is also an appetite among foundations for making investments that can accelerate
knowledge building and support the state and district efforts to adopt competency-based
approaches. Thus, an initial set of investment opportunities are outlined, as well as a set of goals
to spur discussions among philanthropy. The following recommendations are based on the findings
that competency-based approaches are: 1) in the early stages of innovation; 2) being developed
through multiple entry points; 3) dependent on a limited number of innovative practitioners and
technical assistance providers; and 4) increasingly a focus of discussion as a key to improving
education. The recommendations take into consideration Hargadons four types of capital
(intellectual, design, social, and financial) required for innovation in order to establish a catalytic
infrastructure to advance competency-based pathways.20

Investment Opportunities
Support Innovators and Early Adopters: Most of the innovators and early adopters are
developing their models with little philanthropic support. The repercussions may be inconsistent
implementation and little formative evaluation to help guide the work. Philanthropic support,
especially designed to nurture peer networks, could play a critical role in establishing proof points
for competency-based learning. A critical element of this work is to help develop the information
systems to support principals, teachers, and students. In addition, technical assistance providers
need support to expand capacity and develop sustainable business models.

Generate Knowledge Base: There is very little research on competency-based approaches and
plenty of questions. The research agenda might include: 1) cost-effectiveness to determine if there
are any benefits; 2) the degree to which disadvantaged students perform at higher levels; 3) the
conditions required for high-quality performance; and 4) the implications and benefits to teachers.
In addition, understanding if the different ways that learning objectives and the overall competencies
are shaped has any implications for learning, school culture, and teacher engagement.

Design Catalytic Infrastructure for Field-Building and Advocacy: At the moment, innovators
and policy leaders are working in isolation, without any organizational capacity to support
knowledge sharing. Thus, it is important over the next year to create a lean infrastructure to support
networking, knowledge sharing, and discussions on the most challenging elements of designing
competency-based pathways.

Promote Competency-Based Pathways within Other Education Policy Discussions:


As conversations about developing curriculum and assessments based on the Common Core of
Standards proceed, it is important that competency-based approaches are taken into consideration.

28 INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION for K-12 Online Learning


This could include investing in competency-based innovators to convert the Common Core
of Standards into competencies, ensuring that practitioners familiar with competency-based
approaches are at the table in developing assessment practices, and moving policy toward
performance-based funding with rewards for attainment. Most importantly, with the reauthorization
of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act on the horizon, it is critical that policies and
programming have the flexibility to make room for next generation learning.

Proposed Organizing Goals to Drive Investment Choices


By the end of 2016:

Federal education policy will be upgraded to include attention to and support for next
generation learning including competency-based approaches.

All states will have created flexible credit options and three states will have developed
comprehensive competency-based policies, including strategies to support districts, to
complement the traditional system.

Twenty-five percent of districts will have established competency-based pathways, including


but not limited to access to advanced and specialized studies through online learning,
policies and programming to support students that need more time to attain proficiency,
and high-quality alternative education for over-aged and under-credited students.

There will be adequate research and evaluation of competency-based approaches to inform


policy decisions.

There will be a minimum of ten organizations that can provide high-quality technical
assistance to the schools, districts, and states embracing competency-based pathways.

The Common Core of Standards has been translated into competency-based models with
measurable learning topics.

Questions for Discussion


Are these suitable goals for driving investments across foundations? What needs to be
added or changed?

What federal, state or philanthropic investments are currently underway or emerging that
contribute to reaching the goals?

What are potential investments that could be designed for co-funding that would expedite
reaching the goals?

How can foundations ensure that diverse voices will be heard, especially those that bring
critical insights?

How can foundations monitor progress towards the goals?

When Success Is the Only Option: Designing Competency-Based Pathways for Next Generation Learning 29
IV. Concluding Remarks

The rapid decentralization that is shaking industries across the globe, so well described by Thomas
Friedman in The World Is Flat, is now challenging fundamental aspects of our education system.
The application of technology is spawning new innovations daily, such as adaptive instructional
software and assessments, mobile smart phone applications, and digital content. The success of
next generation learning models is enabled by technology, especially through powerful online and
blended learning, sophisticated management information systems, and the much-needed data
analytics that support student learning trajectories. With access to timely information on student
progress, teachers, schools and districts can improve their effectiveness in responding to the
educational needs of all the children in their community.

The impact for students is enormous. Todays students were born into a digital age. The positive
evaluation of blended learning, in which students are spending part of their learning time in online
environments, is generating even greater interest in making online learning available.21 Students
will have the ability to engage in their studies at times that suit them best and to access a greater
diversity of courses. Florida Virtual School found that Saturday night was one of the busiest times
for students to be active in their online courses.22 As we continue down this road of technologically
enhanced education, we can soon expect to see personalized models such as the School of One in
which students have access to a range of modes of learning that respond to their unique learning
styles and interests.

Competency-based pathways are not a silver bullet; however, they are a critical element for
unleashing the power of next generation learning, as well as our childrens inherent hunger
for learning. Practitioners and policymakers alike will need to be thoughtful in design and
implementation so that old practices do not undermine the adaptations of competency-based
practices. Yet, by sharing a laser focus on learning, we can redesign our education system around
student success, classroom by classroom, school by school, state by state.

As our nation reflects upon the implications of a Common Core of Standards and common
assessments, we will eventually come to a fork in the road. One road leads to bureaucratic one-size-
fits-all approaches that will strangle teachers and students alike. Another leads to the effective use
of community resources, information management systems, and technology to support personalized
student learning that will nurture the joy of teaching and learning.

30 INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION for K-12 Online Learning


Time-based measures were appropriate in their day,
but they are not now when we know more about
how people learn and we have access to technology
that can help us accommodate different styles and
paces of learning. As we move to online learning and
learning that combines classroom and online learning,
time-based measures will increasingly frustrate our
attempts to provide learning experiences that lead
to achievement and the pursuit of postsecondary
education that our modern world requires. Another
basic assumption is the inflexible way we organize
students into age-determined groups, structure
separate academic disciplines, organize learning into
classes of roughly equal size with all the students in
a particular class receiving the same content at the
same pace, and keep these groups in place all year. . .
Technology can facilitate implementation of such a
competency-based approach to education.

National Education Technology Plan,


U.S. Department of Education, 2010

When Success Is the Only Option: Designing Competency-Based Pathways for Next Generation Learning 31
Appendix A: Descriptions of Innovators

Adams County School District 50


4476 West 68th Street
Westminster, CO 80030
303-428-3511
www.adams50.org
www.sbs.adams50.org

In the fall of 2009, Adams County School District 50 (Adams 50), serving 10,000 students, kicked
off its conversion to standards-based education. Recognizing that their demographics were
changing, with higher diversity and lower income levels, Adams 50 knew they had to find a way
to produce higher achievement. They did not begin until they had 80 percent support from their
teachers and community stakeholders.

Adams 50 decided to introduce competency-based pathways systemically, starting with elementary


school so that high school students would not suddenly be confronted with a situation of not being
able to graduate because they had not mastered the required skills and content. Replacing grades
with Levels 110 that incorporate standards from elementary school through high school graduation,
Adams 50 is supporting teachers as they develop consensus on what proficiency looks like. Teachers
work together around rubrics to determine when a students work should be considered emerging,
developing, proficient, or advanced. As teachers develop a shared sense of what they need in order
to help students to know and do, their interest in getting additional support on how to improve
instruction is growing.

To support their standards-based education, Adams 50 is working with E-ducate to create an


information system that eases the burden on teachers to enter proficiency levels on each standard
and to track student progression. In the next year, they will begin converting the middle schools to
standards-based education. Given that it is the first year of implementation, it is too early to tell if
Adams 50 is producing results. With careful monitoring, Adams 50 will identify what types of mid-
course corrections will be needed. To maintain a culture of openness and learning, Adams 50 has
set up a website and wiki to make it easy for parents, students, and teachers to access information.

Chugach School District


9312 Vanguard Drive #100
Anchorage, AK 99507
907-522-7400
www.chugachschools.com

In 1994, the Chugach School District, serving 214 students over 20,000 square miles in impoverished
communities, began a fundamental redesign of how they would educate their students. With the
courage to confront the fact that 90 percent of their students could not read at grade level and only

32 INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION for K-12 Online Learning


one student in 26 years had graduated from college, Chugach focused their mission on ensuring
that all students learn to high standards.

The district engaged the community in establishing a performance-based approach, developing


standards in ten content areas, new assessments, and modified reporting mechanisms. Within five
years, Chugach School district saw the following results:23

Over a five-year period, average student achievement on the California Achievement Test
rose from the bottom quartile to the 72nd percentile.

The percentage of students participating in college entrance exams rose from 0 percent to
more than 70 percent by 2000.

Between 1995 and 2000, teacher turnover was reduced to 12 percent; in the previous
twenty-year history of the district, turnover was 55 percent yearly.

Chugachs transformation gained them national attention, including the prestigious Malcolm
Baldrige National Quality Award for organizational excellence. Members of the team that led the
redesign have formed the Re-Inventing Schools Coalition (RISC) and are guiding other districts across
the country through the process of converting to a competency-based approach.

Diploma Plus
89 South Street, Suite 803
Boston, MA 02111
617-443-0050
www.diplomaplus.net

Diploma Plus was developed as a response to the alarmingly high dropout rate and barriers to post-
secondary success for underserved youth, and the inadequate supply of high-quality alternatives to
traditional high schools.Launched in 1996 as a 100-student pilot program, Diploma Plus now serves
over 4,300 students in 29 small alternative high schools and programs in Massachusetts, Rhode
Island, California, Indiana, Michigan, New York City, Newark, Baltimore, Nashville, and Denver.

Diploma Plus opens small standalone schools and small learning communities built on the DP Four
Essentials for success: a performance-based system, a supportive school culture, a future focus on
college and careers, and effective supports for teachers and schools. DP students are placed into
and promoted through three distinct Diploma Plus Phases (Foundation, Presentation, and Plus) that
allow students to learn content and skills at the appropriate level, regardless of their age or previous
credit accumulation.

DP Schools provide curriculum, instruction, and assessments that are built around defined
competencies and that focus on knowledge, skills, and understandings. Students develop meaning
at their own pace and are placed, promoted, and graduate according to their demonstrated learning
rather than seat time, age, or credit accumulation. DP offers its affiliated schools an information
system, DiplomaPlus.net, which allows them to track student progress in this competency- and
performance-based system.

When Success Is the Only Option: Designing Competency-Based Pathways for Next Generation Learning 33
Florida Virtual School
2145 Metrocenter Blvd., Suite 200
Orlando, FL 32835
407-513-3587
www.flvs.net

The Florida Virtual School (FLVS) is an accredited, public, online e-learning school serving students
in grades K12. It is based in Orlando, Florida, and governed as a local education agency (LEA)
providing supplemental online courses and services to students in Florida and nationwide.

FLVS embodies the concept that competency-based approaches collapse the traditional notions
of time, including the school calendar, schedules, and length of time to complete a course. FLVS
has a rolling enrollment policy that includes a pacing guide, which allows as little as six weeks or
as many as twenty-six weeks to complete a course. FLVS can be used by districts as a response
to intervention; if a student is halfway through a traditional course and it appears they will fail
the course, they can enroll in FLVS and complete the course with a clear focus on the learning
objectives. FLVS has a strong culture of student-centered learning and trains every teacher to provide
individual instruction and flexibility in pacing.

In 2003, the legislature passed a law creating a performance-based funding model. FLVS receives full
funding for each students successful completion of a course. This funding model required a learning
management system that was integrated with a competency-based student information system in
order to track progressions toward completion. This deeply integrated, student-centered approach
allows for an individualized learning plan for every student in every course. The information systems
capture relevant data and have an e-portfolio for submitting and storing student work, learning
objectives, and outcomes.

Western Governors University


4001 South 700 East, Suite 700
Salt Lake City, UT 84107-2533
801-274-3280
www.wgu.edu

Western Governors University (WGU) is an accredited, not-for-profit, virtual university offering


competency-based degrees at the associate, bachelor, and masters levels. Founded in 1995 as a
joint venture by the members of the Western Governors Association, WGU serves over 19,000
students from all fifty states.

WGU offers courses in business, information technology, health, and education. WGUs competency-
based approach to online education is personalized with the length of time varying for students
to complete a program. WGU uses a number of assessments including tests, projects, papers,
and practical demonstration of a required skill. Students demonstrate mastery across a number of
domains including general skills, as well as those specific to the degree program. Each student has a
mentor who serves as an academic advisor and helps students manage the online environment.

34 INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION for K-12 Online Learning


WGU defines the roles of faculty and administration differently than traditional universities.
Students are assigned mentors who have the primary relationship with the students throughout
their program. A program council for each degree program brings together experts from the
program field who approve the competency-based degrees and certificates. The assessment
council is responsible for reviewing the credentialing assessments to ensure that the applications
are valid measures of the competencies related to a given degree or certificate. WGU contracts
with education providers for instructors for the online courses. All assessments are objective
and proctored. Student work is assessed by graders. Program coordinators are responsible for
maintaining the content working with councils and coordinating with the assessment department to
ensure effective mechanisms to determine student performance on competencies.

Young Womens Leadership Charter School


2641 S. Calumet Ave.
Chicago, IL 60616
312-949-9400
www.ywlcs.org

The Chicago Board of Education awarded a charter to the Young Womens Leadership Charter
School (YWLCS) in 1999. Soon after, YWLCS developed a new method of awarding course credit
using competency-based assessments. Throughout the year, YWLCS teachers evaluate student
work and grant students a proficiency rating of High Performance, Proficient, or Not Yet Proficient
for each key learning objective associated with the class. Students earn credit for classes in which
they have demonstrated that they are at least 70 percent proficient. If students demonstrate a
competency after the end of the year has passed, future teachers can update students proficiency
ratings in the data system to reflect what they have learned since the conclusion of a course.

Working with the Equity and Achievement for Standards-Based Learning Institute (EASL www.
easlinstitute.org), YWLCS developed an information system that supported teachers and students
in developing proficiency and preparation for college. A non-selective public school that serves
primarily low-income minority students, YWLCS graduated 79 percent of its students in 2005, a
figure 1.5 times higher than Chicago Public Schools overall graduation rate of 52 percent that year.
Of the students who graduated in 2009, 90 percent of YWLCS were accepted to college or another
post-secondary option.

When Success Is the Only Option: Designing Competency-Based Pathways for Next Generation Learning 35
Appendix B: Resources
Christensen, C. Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns.
New York: McGraw-Hill, 2008.

Christensen, C., M. Horn, and C. Johnson. How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way We
Learn. Education Week, June 4, 2008.

Defining and Assessing Learning: Exploring Competency-Based Initiatives. Report of the


National Postsecondary Education Cooperative Working Group on Competency-Based Initiatives in
Postsecondary Education. 2002.

DeLorenzo, R., W. Battino, R. Schreiber, and B. Carrio. Delivering on the Promise. Bloomington, IN:
Solution Tree Press, 2009.

Farrington, C., and M. A. Small. A New Model of Student Assessment for the 21st Century.
American Youth Policy Forum.
www.aypf.org/.../ANewModelofStudentAssessmentforthe21stCentury.pdf.

Horn, M. Virtual Schooling: Disrupting the Status Quo. Innosight Institute


www.innosightinstitute.org.

Keeping Pace with K12 Online Learning: A Review of State-Level Policy and Practice, 2009.
www.kpk12.com.

Learning in the 21st Century: 2009 Trends Update. Project Tomorrow, 2009.

Mackey, K. Wichita Public Schools Learning Centers: Creating a new educational model to serve
dropouts and at-risk students. Innosight Institute. www.innosightinstitute.org.

National Education Technology Plan 2010. U.S. Department of Education.


http://www.ed.gov/technology/netp-2010/reorganizing-teaching-learning.

Picciano, A. and J. Seaman. K12 Online Learning: A 2008 Follow-up of the Survey of U.S. School
District Administrators. The Sloan Consortium, 2009.

Proficiency-Based Instruction and Assessment: A Promising Path to Higher Achievement in Oregon


Education. Oregon Education Roundtable. March 2009. www.k-12leadership.org.

Stiggins, R. J. Assessment Manifesto: A Call for the Development of Balanced Assessment


Systems. ETS Assessment Training Institute, 2008.
www.nmsa.org/portals/0/pdf/advocacy/other_resources/AssessmentManifesto08.pdf

Transforming Education: Delivering on Our Promise to Every Child. Council of Chief State School
Officers, 2009.

36 INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION for K-12 Online Learning


Appendix C: Interviews
Sharon Arnott and Rick Perkins
Florida Virtual School

Peggy Baker and Margaret Small


Equity and Achievement for Standards-Based Learning Institute

Richard DeLorenzo
Re-Inventing Schools Coalition

Bill Diehl
Diploma Plus

Laura Harris
National Governors Association

Paul Leather and Mariane Gfroerer


New Hampshire Department of Education

Melinda Maddox
Alabama State Department of Education

Jill Kirk Powers


Oregon Business Council

Jim Schnitz
Western Governors University

Copper Stoll and Roberta Selleck


Adams County 50 School District, Westminster, Colorado

When Success Is the Only Option: Designing Competency-Based Pathways for Next Generation Learning 37
Endnotes
1
For more discussion on student motivation, see C. Christensen et al., Rethinking Student
Motivation: Why Understanding the Job is Crucial for Improving Education, Innosight Institute,
September 2010.

2
The National Governors Association has initiated an effort on competency-based opportunities,
framing it under Increased Credit Flexibility. This effort emerges out of the A New Day for Learning
initiative from the Mott Foundation with the interest of formally recognizing out-of-school learning.

3
Adapted from materials from the Equity and Achievement for Standards-Based Learning
Institute and the Re-Inventing Schools Coalition.

For more discussion on student-centered assessment, see Rick Stigginss Assessment


4

Manifesto: A Call for the Development of Balanced Assessment Systems.

Proficiency-Based Instruction and Assessment: A Promising Path to Higher Achievement in


5

Oregon Education by Oregon Education Roundtable, March 2009, page 5.

6
Wikipedia provides a good introduction to learning management systems and student
information systems.

7
The first formal study of competency-based learning is starting in 2010. The EASL Institute,
supported by National Science Foundation funding, will partner with the 21st Century Partnership for
STEM Education (21PSTEM) in a four-year research project studying attitudes and student success
in learning mathematics when supported by outcomes-based assessment. The project, called
Proficiency-Based Assessment and Reassessment of Learning Outcomes (PARLO), will incorporate
EASL software as a crucial component of the project. 21PSTEM is based in the greater Philadelphia
area and will engage ninth grade Algebra teachers from more than forty schools around the area.

Available at American Youth Policy Forum, www.aypf.org/.../


8

ANewModelofStudentAssessmentforthe21stCentury.pdf.

9
Schools and Staffing Survey: 1999-2000, U.S. Department of Education. www.ed.gov

10
Keeping Pace with K-12 Online Learning 2010, Evergreen Consulting; www.KPK12.com

11
K12 Online Learning: A 2008 Follow-up of the Survey of U.S. School District Administrators,
Sloan Consortium, January 2009, http:// www.sloan-c.org/publications/survey/pdf/k-12_online_
learning_2008.pdf

The authors use the language over-aged and under-credited or students off-track to
12

graduation rather than the phrase dropout. The term dropout does not capture the dynamics
between schools, communities, and students that lead to students disengaging from school. For
more information on Multiple Pathways to Graduation see Jobs for the Futures Bringing Off-

38 INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION for K-12 Online Learning


Track Youth Into the Center of High School Reform: Lessons and Tools from Leading Communities
(July 2009) at www.jff.org and Youth Transition Funders Groups Closing the Graduation Gap: A
Superintendents Guide for Planning Multiple Pathways to Graduation at www.ytfg.org

See article in USA Today, July 5, 2010. http://www.usatoday.com/news/education/2010-07-05-


13

grade-held-back_N.htm

14
Although it is beyond the scope of this paper, the authors want to bring readers attention
to the fact that even though credit recovery is rapidly expanding, there are not quality standards
defining it. The authors have reason to believe that in some cases credit recovery programming does
not follow the guidelines of effective online or blended learning.

15
R. DeLorenzo et al., Delivering on the Promise (Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press, 2009),
7172, Source: Highland Tech High Standards and Rubrics, www.highlandtech.org/academics/
standards_and_rubrics/index.php.

16
Ibid, page 28.

Forthcoming Attributes of Proficiency-Based Education and Conditions Required to Support It


17

and Take It To System-Wide Scale, Oregon Proficiency Project, 2010.

The Oregon Proficiency Project offers materials, including videos available at the Center for
18

Educational Leadership at www.k-12leadership.org/professional-development/proficiency-project.

19
The system infrastructure includes financing models, performance metrics, student information
systems, teacher training and professional development, curriculum and digital tools, assessments,
grading practices, transcripts, scheduling, etc.

Andrew Hargadon is the founder of the Center for Entrepreneurship and a Professor of
20

Technology Management at the Graduate School of Management at University of California, Davis.


His research focus is on innovation and entrepreneurship. http://andrewhargadon.typepad.com/
my_weblog/on_managing_innovation/.

21
USDOE Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning, http://www.ed.gov/
technology/netp-2010/reorganizing-teaching-learning.

22
Interview, March 2010.

23
Delivering on the Promise, p27.

When Success Is the Only Option: Designing Competency-Based Pathways for Next Generation Learning 39
40 INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION for K-12 Online Learning
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